Picturesque Villages Found on Howardian Hills Walks

Discover the enchanting beauty of the North Yorkshire countryside with my comprehensive guide to Howardian Hills walks. The Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, spanning 79 square miles, boasts a unique landscape with rolling countryside, arable and pasture fields, scenic villages, and historic country houses. This guide provides you with all the information you need to explore this captivating region, with detailed descriptions of several walks that showcase the area’s picturesque charm and rich history. Below is a brief overview of three featured walks, with a full list available further down the page.

The Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) covers 79 square miles of the North Yorkshire countryside, and is nestled between the North York Moors National Park, the Yorkshire Wolds and the Vale of York.

My first featured walk, the Castle Howard walk, is a 12-mile ramble that takes you from Coneysthorpe to Welburn, via the historic Kirkham Priory. This journey offers breathtaking views and an opportunity to immerse yourself in the history and beauty of the Castle Howard grounds. As you traverse the enchanting landscape, you will encounter picturesque villages and stunning countryside vistas that are sure to leave a lasting impression.

Embark on a memorable journey with my second featured walk, the Coneysthorpe walk. This 15-mile route showcases the stunning Howardian Hills and the magnificent Castle Howard. With its tranquil pathways and idyllic scenery, this walk provides the perfect escape into the heart of the English countryside. As you meander through the lush landscape, you’ll find yourself surrounded by nature’s beauty and the serenity that accompanies it.

My third example, the Hovingham walk, is a delightful 9-mile adventure that takes you through the picturesque Howardian Hills and the charming village of Terrington. Starting in the quaint village of Hovingham, you’ll follow the Ebor Way, a popular walking route, and venture into the serene South Wood. This walk offers a rich experience filled with natural beauty, captivating landscapes, and a glimpse into the history and charm of the region.

These three walks are just a taste of the many Howardian Hills walks available in this enchanting region. Explore the full list below this introduction to find your perfect adventure and create unforgettable memories in the spectacular North Yorkshire countryside.

Scenic Walks in the Howardian Hills

About the Howardian Hills

The Howardian Hills is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) located between the Yorkshire Wolds, the North York Moors National Park, and the Vale of York. Named after the Howard family, who still own local lands, this unique area stretches from Helmsley and Coxwold, on the edge of the North York Moors National Park, down to Kirkham Priory and the River Derwent.

Landscape and Geology

Characterised by soft, rolling hills with a tapestry of arable fields, pasture, and woodland, the Howardian Hills form 79 square miles of well-wooded undulating countryside. The 170 metre (558 feet) high ridges are a southern extension of the rocks of the Hambleton Hills in the North York Moors. Jurassic limestone, pastures, and extensive woodland overlook the agricultural plains below, while the River Derwent cuts through the hills in the Kirkham Gorge, a deep winding valley.

Characterised by soft, rolling hills with a tapestry of arable fields, pasture, and woodland, the Howardian Hills form 79 square miles of well-wooded undulating countryside.

Notable Estates and Villages

Large country houses with their designed grounds are a prominent feature of the Howardian Hills. Owners of Castle Howard, Hovingham Hall, Newburgh Priory, Nunnington Hall, and Gilling Castle have moulded the landscape over many centuries. Attractive and individual villages are dotted throughout the AONB, offering food, accommodation, and an excellent base for exploring. Notable locations include Ampleforth Abbey and College, situated within the area.

Biodiversity and Wildlife

The Howardian Hills AONB is a key area for several nationally important Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) Priority habitats, including lowland broadleaved woodland, wood pasture, veteran trees, limestone, neutral grasslands, and fen meadows. Characteristic species include brown hare, lapwing, tree sparrow, and barn owl, as well as several local rarities such as knapweed broomrape and baneberry.

Woodland, wood pasture, veteran trees, limestone, neutral grasslands, and fen meadows.

Archaeological and Historical Significance

The remarkable heritage of the area goes back further than the 18th-century designed landscapes, with medieval castles and monasteries. The concentration of archaeological and historic features, including Iron Age earthworks, grand houses, and designed landscapes, contribute to the dramatic landscape.

Special Qualities of the Howardian Hills AONB

Unusual Landform

The Howardian Hills is the only area of Jurassic limestone landscape in the north of England to be designated as an AONB. The deeply incised Kirkham Gorge, a unique glacial overflow channel, is of great scientific importance. These geological features contribute to the area’s distinct character and are an important factor in its AONB designation.

Richly Varied Landscape

The landscape of the Howardian Hills is composed of a complex system of ridges, hills, and valleys. This varied topography supports a diverse range of habitats, such as woodland, rolling arable fields, small-scale pasture, fens, hedgerows, and stone walls. Formal parkland and scattered settlements further enhance the area’s richly varied landscape, making it a distinctive and visually appealing destination.

The landscape of the Howardian Hills is composed of a complex system of ridges, hills, and valleys.

High Visual Quality

The variety of landforms and land use in the Howardian Hills creates a contrast in scale, colour, texture, and form. Historic houses, extensive woodlands, broad sweeping views, unspoilt farming landscapes, and traditional building styles all contribute to the area’s high visual quality. This aesthetic appeal is a key factor in the AONB designation and makes the Howardian Hills a popular destination for visitors.

Remarkable Heritage

The Howardian Hills boast a wealth of archaeological and historical features, such as Iron Age earthworks, medieval castles, and monasteries. The grand houses and designed landscapes, including Castle Howard, Newburgh Priory, Hovingham Hall, Gilling Castle, and Nunnington Hall, add to the area’s dramatic landscape. This remarkable heritage not only provides a fascinating insight into the region’s past but also contributes to its national significance.

Gilling Castle seen on one of my Howardian Hills walks.

Important Wildlife Resources

The AONB contains a section of the unique River Derwent, which supports outstanding wild plants and animals. Other habitats of national importance include fens and relatively extensive remnants of Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland. The combination of these special qualities in the Howardian Hills AONB creates a landscape of national significance. The area’s unusual landform, richly varied landscape, high visual quality, remarkable heritage, and important wildlife resources make it a unique and valuable destination for visitors and an essential area for conservation efforts.

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